The Bell Jar – Book Review

Sylvia Plath has much of her own life in this book under the guise of her protagonist Esther Greenwood. I have to ask myself how much is the fact that she committed suicide soon after this book was published affecting my thoughts? I really don’t know, but that fact hangs over my reading of this book. To me, Plath comes across as a joyful free spirit carrying the black dog of depression as a turtle carries its shell on its back. Her experience of electric shock treatment is distressing.

This is a novel very much of its time – written in 1963 pre the 1967 “Summer of Love” with its liberal views and reappraisal of the tight social mores of the 1940s and 1950s. It is a woman at odds with the rest of the world – perhaps born out of her time. In contradiction she has such a lust for life in her youth and, of course the reader knows she never makes middle age dying aged 31 a few weeks after this novel was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.

Plath has wonderfully descriptive powers – a U.S. diner -“… heavenly hamburger places, where they serve giant hamburgers and soup of the day and four kinds of fancy cake at a very clean counter facing a long glarey mirror.” I’m right there with her. She speaks of meeting men who look just the thing from afar, but close up “wouldn’t do at all.” Then she writes – “That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the coloured arrows from a Fourth of July rocket”. Reading this one can perhaps understand why she might marry the poet Ted Hughes whom noone could describe as boring.

Essentially the story revolves around a girl writer who wins a prize to go to New York where she and another writer are wheeled out for events. It’s a good read, but the depression that descends makes it a hard one. I felt, when I had finished it a sadness that she died so young with such talent. What wonderful books she could have written.

Sylvia Plath image by Giovanni Giovannetti/Grazia Neri – https://www.flickr.com/photos/synaes/5110600085, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42716377

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